Asia, West to Feel Shift of Hong Kong: Hand-Over's Effects to Be Widespread

By Halloran, Richard | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 27, 1997 | Go to article overview

Asia, West to Feel Shift of Hong Kong: Hand-Over's Effects to Be Widespread


Halloran, Richard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


HONOLULU - After the Union Jack has been hauled down and the Chinese Red Banner run up, after the smoke from firecrackers has cleared and the last drum roll fades away, after the speeches and parades and sporting events and political formalities, the return of Hong Kong to China will have profound consequences for all of Asia - and the West.

At the stroke of midnight Monday, the British Crown Colony of 150 years will become a Chinese Special Administrative Region, or SAR, with Beijing having pledged that the new SAR will enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" for 50 years. Only foreign affairs and national security, says a 1984 Sino-British treaty, will supposedly come under China's purview.

The shift of Hong Kong from British to Chinese governance, however, will be far more than a change in sovereignty for the city-state of 6.3 million people clinging to the underbelly of China's southeastern coast. The implications will show up in at least five ways:

* Nationalism: The reversion of Hong Kong is the next-to-last gasp in 500 years of European, American and Japanese colonialism in Asia; the last will be the reversion of the Portuguese colony of Macao to China in 1999.

The prospect of these hand-overs has fueled a paroxysm of nationalism in China and applause across Asia, where national pride is the region's most powerful political and social force.

* China's future: Beijing's rule of Hong Kong will be watched around the world as a measure of whether China will abide by its treaty with Britain and thus its other international commitments.

Further, China's governance will be a gauge as to whether Beijing will use the wealth of its swiftly expanding economy to assert itself aggressively or to improve the lot of its 1.2 billion people.

* Hong Kong's fate: China already has made clear that Hong Kong residents will have no more political freedom than Chinese on the mainland. As an economic center, the fate of Hong Kong will affect the economies of most Asian nations plus those of the United States and Europe. Hong Kong Chinese have expressed optimism because a thriving Hong Kong would benefit China. Many Westerners fear that Chinese bureaucratic incompetence, greed and corruption will jeopardize Hong Kong.

* Taiwan: China contends that the "one country, two systems" under which Hong Kong is intended to prosper will entice Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province, to reunite with China. Taiwan has explicitly rejected that approach, the government in Taipei having asserted:

"We are a sovereign state and as such we are entitled to normal international standing."

SWEEP OF HISTORY

* Foreign influence: British leaders, President Clinton and Japanese diplomats repeatedly have said they will support Hong Kong's rights under Chinese rule. In stark fact, no outside power will have much influence over Hong Kong. Although the hand-over is the result of a treaty, a senior Chinese official, Zhao Jihua, brushed that aside:

"Hong Kong will be the internal affair of China. No foreign government, or foreigners, are in opposition to interfere with the internal affairs of China."

The sweep of history that is ending with the reversion of Hong Kong and Macao began in 1498, six years after Columbus arrived in America, when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed to India to begin European, American and Japanese conquest of Asia.

By the outbreak of World War II in 1941, foreign flags flew over every capital in Asia except Tokyo and Bangkok, Thailand having become a buffer between British and French colonies in Southeast Asia. China had been carved up into several spheres of influence.

Japan sought to replace Western colonialism with its own imperialism, which led to World War II and crushing defeat; even so, Japan had destroyed Western colonialism. After the end of the war in 1945, Western nations either retreated from Asia or were forced out to be replaced by Asian governments amid an explosion of national pride and fierce independence. …

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